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Out-of-control party at Wade Walker Park leads to change

Ken Watts | 4/25/2014, 6:02 a.m.

DeKalb County will monitor social media and beef up patrols at some parks to help prevent unauthorized parties like the mammoth Easter Sunday cookout that attracted more than 1,500 people to Wade Walker Park in Stone Mountain.

Police also want residents to alert them early before crowds get out of control.

The April 20 gathering that occurred without a county permit ended with the shooting of two 19-year-old women, who sustained minor injuries. The gunfire followed an argument.

Dennis Morgan, who lives in the Mountain Woods neighborhood near Wade Walker Park, said the incident underscores the need for more security at county parks.

“We definitely need a bigger police presence and response times have been a problem,” Morgan said.

He was among more than 40 residents who attended an April 23 Community Public Safety Meeting hosted by District 4 Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton at the Wade Walker YMCA to discuss the incident.

Residents questioned Parks and Recreation Director Roy Wilson and interim Police Chief James Conroy about how such a large number of people could gather at a park without the knowledge of police and parks officials.

Partygoers were lured to the park by hashtag “bigasscookout.”

Wilson said his department doesn’t have the staff to monitor every park but that it uses a strict permitting process that requires large gatherings to supply their own security.

“We have 115 parks and don’t have a dedicated security person at each one monitoring the facilities,” he said April 24. “We have a director of security who travels around and checks on parks, but he’s one person so we depend on the police do the majority of the patrols.”

Police are still looking for the shooter.

Officers say the gathering was filled with other illegal activity, including drug use, open containers, urinating in public and general mischief.

A woman at the meeting wanted to know whether there is a way to get more patrols, especially when the weather is nice and people are gathering in the park.

Conroy said police participated in the annual Easter Eggstravaganza hosted by Commissioner Stan Watson and state Rep. Billy Mitchell that ended at 4:40 p.m.

The renegade party started after that event. Photos posted on Instagram by partygoers show a sea of cars and the huge crowd that flooded the park. Police said the gathering, called by four college-age promoters, caught them off-guard. There were no officers on the scene as the party swelled to 1,500.

About 5:30 p.m., an officer on routine patrol spotted the crowd. Conroy said they need help from the public to head off trouble.

“We got one 911 call later in the evening, nothing from the citizens earlier, and that call came about two hours after we had already been on the scene,” Conroy said. “If you see an event like this starting, call us as soon as you see it starting to get out of control before the 1,500 people show up.”

Police say the public should call 911 for emergencies and 404-294-2911 to report suspicious activity. Colleen Morgan, who also lives in Stone Mountain, wanted to know the limit on the number of people who can gather in a park.

“One thousand is about capacity in most cases,” Conroy said.

The police chief said the department will beef up patrols around “problem parks” and surrounding neighborhoods.

Cedric Alexander, DeKalb’s deputy chief operating officer who attended the meeting but did not speak to the crowd, said officers will talk with the party promoters to make sure they never try anything like that again.

“We’ve had preliminary conversations with them and plan to call them in for a talk in the next few days,” Alexander said. “We also have assigned an officer to monitor social media for notices that could lead to problems. In today’s world with the prevalence of those sites, you can draw a huge crowd in just a couple of hours.”